Yep, that’s me…posing in front of one of the many canals in BEAUTIFUL Amsterdam, Holland. For anyone who does not know me, work with me, or follow the Frozen Moments FB page and, therefore, may have missed my incessant chatter and excitement leading up to this vacation of a lifetime, I will briefly explain how I got here.
I’m actually going to blog about this trip in two separate posts because there are just too many photos (1,100 to be exact) and there are so many sights I want to share, so today’s post will focus on the City of Amsterdam and my family, and next week I will share memories and shots of my visits to Utrecht, Holland and Brugge, Belgium.
I am the eldest of five children and there is a nine year age gap between myself and my youngest brother, Mark. Between us there is a sister and two more brothers. From the day he graduated college, Mark has lived everywhere in the world. He played professional basketball in both Europe and Australia, and has lived and worked in several countries, most recently approximately a decade in London and now, for the past few years, in Amsterdam.
Mark married the most wonderful Dutch woman, Marije, in the summer of 2013, and they had their first baby, Max, this past April 1. Unquestionably, the cutest, smartest, most awesome baby EVER…and I’m not just saying that because I’m his Aunt Gail!
Anyway, Mark has been asking me to come visit for years now and I just couldn’t make it happen. Well, he surprised me this past summer by telling me he was buying me a ticket to come for a visit and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
What could I do? I had to go, of course!! So I quite happily boarded the plane and headed to Amsterdam by way of Iceland on Oct. 22 to begin my 12-day visit.
My brother met me at the airport and just the ride to his flat blew me away. Amsterdam is so charming! The buildings, the streets, the bikes that were absolutely everywhere…and the canals. Those canals are more beautiful than I could even have imagined, particularly given the fact that they were experiencing an autumn exactly like ours, complete with sunny days, warm temps and peak foliage. The camera came out immediately.
They live in a gorgeous apartment occupying the top 3 floors of a building right in the center of the city and overlooking one of the canals. Looking out their living room windows, you gaze down upon the canal, the boats, the cobblestone streets and sidewalks, and the beautiful architecture across the way. I spent a lot of time staring out those windows.
I’m a little surprised at myself that I didn’t get a shot of the staircase leading up to their apartment from the lobby. Very old, very narrow and steep, and winding up the building. And completely awesome. However, the super cool staircase made it difficult to get anything all the way up to the top floors where they live. Solution? A pulley, of course, with a giant hook, a massive fish net, and a handy electronic control to haul stuff up from the sidewalk. It was brilliant, and you can see similar rigs in many of the other buildings as well. I tried to string these photos together and I think they came out a little bit small, but you can see my brother motioning Marije to start the pulley, then the net reaching the window, and Marije hauling it in. While I was there, they hauled up many groceries, a ton of fireplace wood that was delivered, and suitcases.
Here’s the view from their living room:
…and my view from my bedroom window out the back.
I loved those canals. I can’t even begin to explain how much I loved those canals. And the fact that the trees were so brilliant with foliage and reflecting on the water made it that much better.
On the afternoon that I arrived, my brother (pictured with me below) and a couple of his friends had to go out and pick up some cheeses and wines for a dinner party that evening, and asked if I wanted to come for a walk and get my first glimpse of their city. Ummm, yes please!
We stopped at a traditional Dutch pub for a beer which is where this photo was taken. These pubs are pretty cool, they are called “brown bars” due to the fact that they are so dark and cozy, and the walls and ceilings are coated with nicotine stains from years past. They date back to the 1600’s.
We stopped at this great cheese shop. As a huge fan of cheese myself, you can imagine my excitement to be here…especially given all the samples of unique flavors. My favorite? A bright green pesto cheese that was to die for. If I could have gotten away with filling my pockets with those sample tastes of that beautiful green delight, I think I would have.
I did a little bit of research when I got home out of curiosity and discovered that there are 165 canals in Amsterdam…which makes me feel a little bit better regarding the fact that I came home with approx 400 shots of JUST the canals. Every view was unique and beautiful. Another fun fact? I heard on a canal cruise that we took (pics later in this post) that there are 600,000 bikes in the city. SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND. However, when I was doing my research, I found a statistic on the “I AMsterdam” website that indicated the number to be 881,000! The difference may be registered vs unregistered bikes (the driver who brought me to the airport explained this to me). They far outnumber the cars, no question there, and make so much more sense.
Marije told me that the shot below is the most photographed spot in the city. You can see why. Absolutely gorgeous.
I’m a sucker for graffiti.
I was told that there were several taste experiences I HAD to have before I came home. One was Bitterballen, which are referred to as “Holland’s favorite snack.” I can see why. They are breaded and deep-fried balls filled with a tender, incredibly tasty filling traditionally made with beef. A little bit of a thick, spicy mustard… Delicious! The other was “chips and mayo.” Marije took this photo of me with my first (and it wasn’t the last) taste of these crispy fries with a huge glob of mayonnaise on the top. Not sure if I would have even considered mayo on my fries here at home, but I tried it there and, let me tell you, it is really very, very good. Better than ketchup.
Below is the English church where my brother and his new wife were married. It is located in the Begijnhof Courtyard which is a surprising oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. Originally a sanctuary for nuns, today its houses are occupied by older single women. The church is the main feature of the courtyard and is one of the oldest buildings in the city!
This is one view of the courtyard:
Following are some shots of sights in the city, including the giant chess match, a couple of street scenes, and yet more canal photos.
On one particularly warm and sunny afternoon, Marije and I decided to take the baby for a walk and go on a canal cruise. What a treat that was! The tour boats are pictured in the photo below. We cruised all over the city and viewed buildings from the very old and historic, to the ultra modern. Our guide was very informative and it was really cool to be viewing the canals from the perspective of the boat.
On another day, we headed to the Rijksmuseum by way of the infamous flower market! It was a feast for the eyes. So many bulbs and fresh cut flowers…in addition to plenty of tourist shops.
It was another beautiful day and the walk to the museum took us through yet another part of the city. The Rijksmuseum is a Netherlands national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, and has been completely transformed after ten years of renovation and restoration.
I don’t have a clear shot of the museum, but that’s okay because it was partially blocked by the “I AMsterdam” sculpture (below) and there were just too many tourists, but you can see it there, towering in the background. The place was huge.
And how cool is that sculpture? (I’m not sure what to call it exactly, but I think “sculpture” seemed fairly close…). I loved how the people were posed all over it for photos, including me, leaning against the ‘S’ in the first photo.
Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” was the first piece we saw. It was utterly awe-inspiring and I practically cried. Just to have been standing in front of it was overwhelming.
This was the museum’s “Great Hall,” my pic does not do it justice. It was gorgeous.
And, finally, check out the museum library! So many precious and important books.
And now, to close out Part I of II of my Adventures in Amsterdam, please humor me and allow me to share some photos of my very, very cute little nephew and his parents…Mark and Marije.
Well, if you read this entire thing, let me just say thank you for hanging in there. I know it was a really long read and there were so many photos, but I had a hard time narrowing down my photos and I really wanted to document everything, not only for sharing my memories here, but so that I could relive what was a truly exceptional 12 days. Next week: Brugge, Belgium and Utrecht, Holland.